The Good War

Terkel, Studs. “The Good War”: an Oral History of World War Two. New York: Partheon Books, 1984

Reason read: I am taking a full two months to the “The Good War.” Victory Day is May 9th and D-Day is June 6th.

The best way to read “The Good War” is to sit down with a cup of coffee and envision a WWII vet sitting across from you. He has a faraway look in his eyes and a slight tremor in his hands as he remembers best a single event that most likely changed his life forever. But, don’t stop there. Now sitting across from you could be a businessman, a nurse, a dress maker, a dancer, a man who was just a child during the war and thought the battlefield was place of adventure. you might imagine someone who survived a prison camp, or a conscientious objector, or a young boy who thought enlisting would be a chance to prove himself…Terkel interviewed people from all walks of life. Each story is unique and yet, yet hauntingly similar. You hear of young men losing their sense of humanity in the face of unimaginable cruelty: a man remembers watching his comrade in arms throw pebbles into the open skull of a dead Japanese soldier; the smell of cooking cats. Other young men speak of hiding their sexual orientation while trying to appear manly enough for battle (Ted Allenby’s story reminded me of Ryan O’Callaghan a great deal). But, you also hear from the women: wives and girlfriends left behind, Red Cross nurses on the front lines, even singers sent to entertain the troops. It is easy to see why this stunning nonfiction won a Pulitzer.

Quotes to quote, “No matter what the official edict, for millions of American women home would never be again a Doll’s House” (p 10), and “I got on the stick and wrote the President again” (p 21), and “Must a society experience horror in order to understand horror?” (p 14).

Author fact: Studs’s real name was Louis.

Book trivia: “The Good War” won a Pulitzer for nonfiction in 1985.

Nancy said: Pearl said you could never do better than Terkel’s “The Good War” for an oral history. Agreed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War Two Nonfiction” (p 254).

Beautiful Swimmers

Warner, William W. Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay. New York: Penguin Books, 1988.

This book is everything you have ever wanted to know about crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay. Seriously. It’s an extensive look at the watermen who make their living hauling up blue crabs. More than a science tutorial on the quick and aggressive critters, it is also a lesson in personality – the type of individual who makes a living hauling in crabs. The illustrations by Consuelo Hanks are phenomenal.

Here’s the thing. This book completely reminded me of the men and women who fish off of the coast of Monhegan Island. They love their life on the water just as much and love their way of life even more.

Funny line, “Getting up at two o’clock is unnatural for city folk” (p 151).

Reason read: William W. Warner passed away on April 18th 2008 from complications related to Alzheimer’s. I know it sounds gruesome but as soon as I learned this I thought of my uncle and wondered if Warner choked to death.

Author fact: William W. Warner won a Pulitzer for Beautiful Swimmers.

Book trivia: Beautiful Swimmers has gorgeous illustrations by Consuelo Hanks. Definitely worth checking out…as I mentioned before.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Chesapeake Bay” (p 59).

God: a biography

Miles, Jack. God: a Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Jack Miles has an interesting concept. In order to write a biography on God he had to first consider him as a character in the Old Testament. He had to analyze the “character development” and bear witness to the relationships between God and the other primary “characters” of the Bible. One has to think of God and Lord as different. God takes on a variety of roles (including animal husbandry counselor). Miles’s philosophy is strong and pragmatically sound, even for an agnostic like me. It works. Somehow, it really works. Others must agree because God: a Biography won Miles a Pulitzer.

Favorite lines, “Our only identity is a lack of identity” (p 22), and “He is not just unpredictable but dangerously unpredictable” (p 46).

Confessional – I didn’t finish this. I got the gist of it after 100 pages. I think that was good enough.

Reason read: Easter has got to be one of the most religious holidays people celebrate. So, in honor of Easter and religion in general I am reading God: a Biography.

Author fact: As a former Jesuit priest Miles is no stranger to religious studies.

Book trivia: As I mentioned before Jack Miles won a Pulitzer for God: a Biography. What I didn’t mention was the date: 1996.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 200s” (p 65).

Bridge of San Luis Rey

Wilder, Thornton. The Bridge of San Luis Rey. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc., 1966.

Warning! This review is with spoiler!!

The premise for The Bridge of San Luis Rey is fascinating. In a nutshell an Italian monk by the name of Brother Juniper was not only witness to a terrible tragedy, he was mere moments away from sharing the same horrific fate. An ancient bridge in Lima, Peru collapses just as five travelers have set out across it. Instead of suffering a kind of survivors guilt, Brother Juniper is instead encouraged to pursue his study of theology, using the tragedy to demonstrate scientific reason as to why his life was spared. Being a man of the cloth he wants to prove it was divine intervention that caused him to avoid such an unfortunate demise. More importantly, he can finally prove the five victims (who weren’t so “lucky”) shared a common fault and their deaths were part of a larger plan. In other words, luck had nothing to do with it. The other option, less likely in the eyes of Brother Juniper, was it was a simple, random accident. Brother Juniper devotes his life to researching the private lives and documenting the secrets of the five victims, in a search for commonality. All in the hopes of proving the collapse was considered an act of god, a shared destiny. This would be something Brother Juniper could finally attach his scientific study of theology to. The five unfortunate travelers are:

  1. Dona Maria, the Marquesa de Montemayor and her companion,
  2. Pepita.
  3. Estaban – a twin grieving the loss of his brother and, before crossing the bridge, about to set sail with a sea captain.
  4. Uncle Pio, the actress Camila’s maid, singing master, coiffeur, masseur, errand-boy, reader, banker, coach, writer and tutor.
  5. Don Jaime, Camila’s son

In the end, Brother Juniper was burned at the stake along with his “research” on the five victims of the bridge collapse. He was charged with heresy.

Favorite quotes: “The Marquesa would even have been astonished to learn that her letters were very good, for such authors live always in the noble weather of their own minds and those productions which seem remarkable to us are little better than a days routine to them” (p 15).
“All families lived in a wasteful atmosphere of custom and kissed one another with secret indifference” (p 16). And another, “You see its the ocean you want” (p 67).

Can I just say I love the titles of the first and last chapters? “Part One – perhaps an accident” and “Part Five – perhaps an intention.”

Note: I should have started reading this book on July 20th, the day “the finest bridge in all of Peru” collapsed. Who knew?

Book Trivia: Bridge of San Luis Rey was made into a movie on three different occasions. It has also been interpreted as an opera and a play.

Reason read: August is the last month for students to travel before heading back to school. I chose Peru as the destination for the last adventure of August.

Author Fact: Thornton Wilder won a Pulitzer for The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Peru(sing) Peru” (p 177).

Guns of August

Tuchman, Barbara. The Guns of August. New York: Dell, 1971.

My copy of The Guns of August is a squat, 576 page, dirty, and torn paperback. It has been taped several times over and written in much, much more. Nothing drives me more nuts than a library book with someone’s scrawl all over it. Donated or not, it never should have gotten into the collection that way. But, back to the actual book.

The Guns of August is nothing short of impressive. It should have won a Pulitzer for history but because Pulitzers for history can only be handed out for U.S. history, it got one for nonfiction. Same diff in my book. It was a national best seller, John F. Kennedy referred to it on more than one occasion as the end all-be all for political strategy¬†and it was made into a movie. In other words, the critics have weighed in – it’s a good book.

Lines that (oddly) made me laugh: “Systematic attention to detail was not a notable characteristic of the Russian Army” (p 78).
“Messimy telephoned to Premier Viviani who, though exhausted by the night’s events, had not yer gone to bed. “Good God!” he exploded, “these Russians are worse insomniacs than they are drinkers”…” (p 109).

BookLust Twist: In More Book Lust in the chapter, “Barbara Tuchman: Too Good To Miss” (p 225). Indeed.
Confession: because of the length of The Guns of August I read it for the entire month of January.